Pray - Then Vote

Florida courts tried to starve a woman to death and Florida's lawmakers stopped them. Gov. Jeb Bush's order, like a last-minute stay of execution, saved Terri Schiavo with only a few hours remaining before she passed the point of no return.

But pro-lifers don't credit Jeb Bush alone. The case was the principal intention in weeks-long prayer vigils. In last week's issue, the Register's headline was: “Pro-lifers Mourn; Schiavo's Family Prays for a Miracle.” This week, the headline is: “Saved in the Nick of Time.” “It has restored my belief in God,” said Terri's father, Bob Schindler. “This is blessed.” Her sister Suzanne called it “a miracle, an absolute miracle.”

Terri collapsed in 1990, the year she turned 27, from mysterious, sudden heart failure. She slipped into a coma but, according to her family, she has shown signs of alertness. Famously, she smiled for her mother in a photo advocates for her life have used to plead their case.

When Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, ordered her feeding tube to be removed, her parents objected. Terri's parents accuse Mr. Schiavo of being interested in the $1 million damages that medical services have paid out in connection with Terri's treatment at the time of her heart failure. They also say Mr. Schiavo wants to marry the woman he is living with, but can't while Terri's alive.

So he took his case to the courts. He says Terri once told him she would rather die than linger in a coma. That was good enough for the courts and, after months of legal battles, her feeding tube was ordered removed Oct. 15.

Terri was expected to die, but lawmakers tried one last-ditch effort. It worked. On Oct. 21, Florida House and Senate Republicans passed a bill that “authorizes the Governor to issue a one-time stay to prevent withholding of nutrition and hydration under certain circumstances.” Michael Schiavo is suing the state over the law.

There are two lessons voters in every state should learn from Terri's story.

Pro-life politicians matter. If Terri had been allowed to die, it would have set a horrifying precedent. A woman would have been killed against her family's wishes despite evidence that she is alert and responsive. It took a pro-life governor — a recent Catholic convert at that — to stop it.

The Associated Press ran down the list of the governor's pro-life accomplishments: His first year in office, he approved a “Choose Life” license plate vetoed by his predecessor. “He has persistently fought the courts to enact tougher abortion laws,” said the report. And earlier this year, Bush appointed a guardian for the unborn child of a severely retarded woman who was raped while in state care. Ultimately, the woman gave birth.

“I am pro-life and I believe in the sanctity of life and I don't think that's a surprise to anybody,” said Bush. “It's been my view. I think life is innocent, life is precious.”

Legislators needn't cede important matters to the courts. There has been a tendency among lawmakers to treat the courts as if they were infallible interpreters of the laws of the land. They forget that the three branches of government have equal authority. In fact, in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II points out that states become totalitarian if they fail to balance the legislative, executive and judicial branches. It is often easy for lawmakers to side-step controversial matters like abortion by claiming the courts are responsible.

But Terri's case shows just how much the legislative branch can do in cases like these. We saw the same thing earlier this fall when a judge tried to put a stop to the federal “do-not-call” list. Consumers could put their names on the list to stop calls by telemarketers. It didn't take long for the U.S. Congress to override the judge on behalf of consumers.

We need more lawmakers have the integrity and courage to represent their constituents and stand up to the courts — not just when it's easy, but also when it's difficult.

We can start by doing what the Schiavo family did: Pray for help in these life-and-death situations. But prayer, in this case, should lead to voting — and to convincing as many other people as possible to vote — for more such heroes.